Although I fell in love with Sarah Palin in 2008, she had begun to drive me a just a little bit crazy recently, often so inarticulate that I thought she was trying to make Barack Obama without a teleprompter look like Pericles.
All is forgiven. Sarah Palin’s decision not to run for president redeemed her. She did the right thing by her country, her party, and by herself. By not running, Palin preserves her status as a power broker in the Republican Party, which could have been diminished by a bad showing in the primaries. She will be big in 2012, bigger than if she'd launched a failed presidential bid.
In considering the career of Sarah Palin, up to this point, I am going to use a word I generally consider verboten: sexism. It is generally liberals who toss around the sexism charge, but it is worth asking whether, if she had been a man, Palin would have been treated as abominably by the liberal media.
In 2008, we had a man running for the presidency of the United States who was a virtual unknown, yet the media was in Alaska, rummaging through Palin’s trash. Some of the speculation about Palin and her family was downright bizarre—Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan became fixated on whether son Trig was really Palin’s (Sullivan posited that Trig was her grandson).
It should be noted that Palin especially upset liberal women. One of my Georgetown liberal friends and I agreed that we just shouldn’t talk about her. Fine with me, but my friend called with daily bulletins. An itch that had to be scratched, Palin was criticized by my friend for having had “that pathetic baby,” a particularly brutal reference to Trig, who has Down syndrome. Yes, Sarah got my friend’s goat.
But was it sexism? Only in the sense that conservative women face a kind of hostility that is the result of a combination of their sex and their philosophy. Women are supposed to be liberals. You will be punished by the media if you wander off the reservation. But I don’t think this response is fueled by sexism per se as much as it is by something arguably worse: the idea that women are owned by one political party. African-Americans often face the same prejudice.
But I am ready to concede that pure sexism, sexism not based on political philosophy, does exist outside the fringes of society. Ironically, the one instance of this we’ve seen lately comes from what should be an unlikely place: the Obama White House. Ron Suskind’s new book, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” quotes women who’d worked early on in the administration alleging sexism. I'm afraid it sounds plausible.
“[T]his place would be in court for a hostile workplace ... Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women," Anita Dunn, former Obama communications director, is quoted saying.
I think the real story here may be that supposedly feminist men often don’t treat women well. Jean Paul Sartre was famous for (figuratively) walking all over feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir, while Dashiell Hammett also treated Lillian Hellman like a human doormat. It’s enough to make you yearn for an old-fashioned male chauvinist pig who’ll stand when you enter the room and refrain from sleeping with your friends!
In the case of Obama & Co., the guys probably felt they had good feminist creds because they were advancing policies designed to curry favor with female voters. These are always big government policies that assume that women are victims of discrimination, even if most of the discrimination we see these days hurts men more. Sarah Palin's offense, the thing that made her so infuriating to liberal women, was that she didn’t buy into this. She believes in small government and personal responsibility. This made her a target. You aren’t supposed to believe these things, Ms. Palin.
It should be said that Palin made the mistake of playing into the media's hands. She appeared on Saturday Night Live, dignifying Tina Fey’s imitations of her. On the other hand, she engaged in an ongoing feud with what she called the “lamestream media.” A little aloofness would not have come amiss (though I can't help feeling that that's just not our Sarah). She became a celebrity rather than a governor, giving up her day job on flimsy pretexts (though it may truly be that she had to leave the governor’s office because the number of ethics inquiries filed against her spelled financial ruin if she didn't start making big money).
Some have suggested that Palin take courses and learn more about history and policy (I am picturing her as Meg Ryan in I.Q.). I don’t see that happening. She is a gut politician. But she could bone up some and learn not to get down on the media’s level. She was probably plucked prematurely from Alaska, but that can’t be remedied.
What is undeniable is that, because she was smart enough not to run, she has a great future. Her analysis of what is at stake in 2012 is on target (oops! Is it okay to say that?):
We cannot afford this fundamental transformation of America, turning it into something that we don't even recognize. Instead, we need to restore this country. We need to restore all that is good, and right and free about America. Our republic is worth defending. We do not need a transformation, we need a renewal. We need a restoration of America.
Could anybody have said it better?
Sarah Palin is one smart gal.